The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Vicksburg marks a significant change of geography for the Lower Mississippi River paddler. Vicksburg heralds the end of the Mississippi Delta and the beginning of the Mississippi Loess Bluffs. From here down to St. Francisville there are no continuous levees on the Mississippi side because of the high ground created by the bluffs, which approach the river and then retreat along various tributaries like Bayou Pierre, Coles Creek and the Big Black River. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta technically ends at the mouth of the Yazoo River, also known as “the River of Death.” This junction also marks the first left bank tributary since Noncannah Creek in Memphis, 300 miles upstream!
The Yazoo River (along with its major tributary the Big Sunflower) drains all the Mississippi Delta and much of the Hill Country. If there was ever any river that had the blues, it is the Yazoo. Its reach includes Delta blues stars like Memphis Minnie, Charlie Patton, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, and also Hill Country blues stars Mississippi Fred McDowell, Othar Turner, and Jessie Mae Hemphill, and many, many others. Almost anyone you can name in the Delta Blues or Hill Country blues traditions were born and raised in this drainage. See Rivergator Appendix for complete descriptions of the paddling trails of the Lower Delta including Centennial Lake, the Yazoo River, Big Sunflower River, Little Sunflower River and Yalobusha River.
Vicksburg’s nickname “the Key to the South” also applies to paddlers. Here you will find your best place to start or end an expedition. For long-distance paddlers it will be your best resupply. Vicksburg is thick with history, culture, good food and great accommodations. The feeling is “thick” here also. Thick and oily. Downtown feels like it is living in another era, a feeling that reaches out into all parts of town, and is highlighted at the National Military Park.
A good place to start your visit is the Old Courthouse Museum with great panoramas of downtown. It’s located up the hill at 1008 Cherry Street, and is one of the first buildings you’ll see from the distance as you paddle up the Yazoo. Be sure to visit the recently completed Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Site located within the MV Mississippi. You can walk down a scale model of the Vicksburg to Baton Rouge stretch that you are about to paddle! For a spectacular view up the main channel of the river go to the turnout on South Washington (Louisiana Circle) across from the Dixiana Motel. The Vicksburg National Military Park is a must-see for its moving exhibits and beautiful monuments and scenery. Be sure to visit the ironclad gunboat U.S.S. Cairo museum. The park commemorates the campaign, siege, and defense of Vicksburg in 1863 and includes over 1,340 monuments, markers and plaques, a 16-mile tour road, a restored Union gunboat, and a National Cemetery. Vicksburg National Cemetery embraces 116 acres and holds the remains of 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers, a number unmatched by any other national cemetery. Paddlers take notice: you can purchase Maps of the entire Lower Mississippi at the US Army Corps headquarters on Clay Street! Bring your ID and visit the map room.
USFW and the LMRCC
Besides being the supreme stronghold for big river engineering, Vicksburg is also the home to the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee and the US Fish & Wildlife — whose fish toxicology reports have demonstrated that the Mississippi River is a lot cleaner than anyone thought. In fact, it’s the cleanest river in the State of Mississippi (this according to the fish taken and examined).
The LMRCC oversees the notching project which has opened up so many of the back channels described in the Rivergator. Notching means better habitat for endangered species like the pallid sturgeon, the fat pocketbook mussel, and the least tern. Notching also results in better paddling. It means we paddlers have more opportunities to get off the main channel and away from tow traffic and enjoy the wild splendors found behind the islands. Last benefit to notching: it creates more isolated islands where only paddlers (or other boats) can find access. LMRCC founding director Ron Nasser envisioned endangered pallid sturgeon and other species reconnecting their life-cycles with free flowing back channels, and through decades of hard work Ron made them happen. Delta Point Bar is one of the many islands that have benefitted from Ron’s vision. As result of the notching project biologists like Paul Hartfield and his Pallid Sturgeon Posse have uncovered Pallid Sturgeon spawning grounds and secrets of their migrations and life cycles that had heretofore not been understood. In fact, the Lower Mississippi was considered a dead river (for sturgeon) until Paul and other river biologists demonstrated otherwise. Two other mysterious Lower Mississippi migrations are the freshwater shrimp and the American eel. Ron retired in 2013 but his vision is being carried on by Angeline Rogers and her staff. See Rivergator Appendix for more information about the LMRCC and its restoration projects.
The Mississippi River Bluz Cruz Canoe & Kayak race started back in 2005 in Vicksburg and continues to grow every year. Family friendly, and more about the fun of paddling than sheer competition, Bluz Cruz nevertheless allows surf skiers and other cutting edge paddlers the opportunity to stretch out and challenge themselves on a significant portion of the Lower Mississippi River. Held annually on the 2nd Saturday in April, the 22 mile race start line is at the Madison Parish Port boat ramp (Louisiana: mile marker 457 RBD) with a finish line at the Vicksburg boat ramp up the Yazoo River in downtown Vicksburg. Commercial towboat traffic is halted by the Coast Guard during this race. Go to bluzcruz.com for more information. (Layne Logue)